From analogue Madchester to digital Manchester

haciendaIt is almost 30 years since something started coming out of Manchester. I remember the point it went mainstream about 1988 when I was up there with friends. ITV showed a fantastic video of the drugged-up Happy Mondays around 1.30am. Nothing scheduled, they just decided to broadcast it.

A personal Summer of Love followed. A despatch-rider all week in London, park the bike at Euston station and up to Manchester on the 6pm train. A few beers, picked up by mates, down the Red Lion in Wythenshawe, then Afflecks Palace for some shopping on Saturday morning, a City game at Maine Road, the Hacienda until God-Knows-What-Time the next morning, back at the Red Lion for lunch followed by football in the park, some jazz at the Newcastle Steam Brewery, then back to London on the midnight milk train, ready to call in for work at 7am. Happy, happy days, even happy Mondays if you get my drift.

Much has changed in these three decades. While London is now almost free of despatch-riders because of technology rendering most expensive deliveries obsolete, Manchester has struggled to keep up with London’s ascension as one of the major technology hubs in the world.

But that may finally be set to change with the launch of a new digital festival in the city, highlighted by the Innov8 Startup Award sponsored by Google and UKFast. The festival launches on May 7th and positions itself as ‘the coolest tech festival in Europe’ covering digital, tech, ecommerce, startups, mobile, video, advertising and gaming.

Moreover, in the spirit of the old Madchester days, the typical conference schedule will be broken up by live acoustic performances and DJ sets. Probably no sign of the Happy Mondays or other sundries, but you never know.

I’m going to speak there as well as Martin Bryant, Editor-in-Chief at The Next Web and many others and the Innov8 Startup Award should be an interesting competition to see how evolved the Manchester tech scene has become… the prize package includes £100k of Google cloud credit and an exclusive support package with ongoing mentoring from industry experts.

“The event is the perfect stage to showcase the launch of the Google Developers Startup programme. I’m sure it will be a great event and I hope the first instalment of an impressive future going forward”, said Rupert Whitehead, Developer Relations Programs Lead, UK, Ireland and Nordics at Google.

“We are still an unfunded startup, reaching this point through hard work and passion, without a penny in the bank. To gain the backing of the world’s biggest brand proves that if you have the right team in place and never stop following your dreams you can achieve anything. This is going to rock Manchester and change the face of the digital landscape in the city forever,” said Jonathon Cadden – Founder, Business Rocks and organiser of the festival.

In its heyday, Madchester made the front cover of Time magazine and for a few heady months was the coolest place on the planet. Perhaps those times will come again now that the city is hugging the digital revolution as strongly as ‘refreshed’ clubbers used to do to each other at The Hacienda.

Ah, memories… in the corner of my mind.

Games investors queue for PG tips in London

mobile_gamesThe mobile games industry is now a $25 billion business and next month’s Pocket Gamer Connects conference in London will be as celebratory as it is influential.

Taking place on Tuesday and Wednesday (13th/14th January) near London Bridge, the conference brings together more than 850 attendees and 150 speakers from more than 40 countries, of which 70 are developers. A varied track of sessions and keynotes from mobile games mavens make it an industry cynosure and the first important trade event of the year.

Most interestingly (and almost par for every global conference nowadays) there is a pitching session from 2pm on 13th January where more than 10 Finnish developers are pitching to an array of VCs and investors for Series A funding.

At time of writing, there were still a limited number of investor slots still available to find the latest Rovio Mobile or Supercell mobile games behemoth. To see an investor pack click here or register directly here.

“The $25 billion mobile games industry is still growing at an amazing rate and the Finnish mobile games development scene is pretty much the hottest on the planet right now.

“Pocket Gamer Connects is all about connecting people, so we’re delighted to be able to bring together ten of the most promising upcoming Finnish companies with some of the worlds smartest investors – the results should be interesting!”, said Chris James, Pocket Gamer CEO.

I shall also be at the show next Tuesday and Wednesday to find some stories and meet some interesting and smart people. Please reach out to me by email if you would like to meet up – monty.munford@gmail.com

Influential Israelis Blonde 2.0 Boston bound

blonde_bostonNotwithstanding the sparkly element of the picture and that we are obviously superstars, the adjacent picture is at a recent event in London’s Soho House, with Mike Butcher, editor-at-large of TechCrunch, some bloke in the background, my good self and Blonde 2.0 founder Ayelet Noff .

Blonde 2.0 is an award-winning tech-focused communications company and was founded by Ayelet eight years ago in Tel Aviv. Almost a decade on, it has decided to open its first office outside Israel in the rarified city of Boston, Massachusetts. They are very good at their job.

The company’s clientele includes tech giants such as Viber, StoreDot and Yo, as well as more than 70 other clients and will focus on providing services to startups and technology-focused companies in the US. It also works for VCs such as Rhodium, Singulariteam and Shaked Ventures.

“Expanding overseas is the next logical step for us. For several years now, the majority of our clients have come from outside Israel, so we wanted to add a location that will boost our ability to service and communicate with clients from around the world. We chose Boston since we already have great clients there, and good ties to the business community in the city,” said Blonde Co-CEO Motti Peer.

Blonde 2.0 is headquartered in Tel Aviv and employs 25 people and you may have noticed from the picture that Ayelet is a brunette, not a blonde, a fact that has no relevance at all to the rest of the content of this piece.

The Gaza Sky Geeks bring hope to the Strip

sky_geeksOne of my highlights of 2015 was a visit to Ramallah and Jericho in the West Bank to speak at a conference and meet some of the amazing startups in Palestine.

Under extraordinary conditions, how these companies exist is difficult to believe. Israel has control over the spectrum and still refuses to grant 3G licences to mobile operators who have already paid for them, but Palestinian tech companies are not only thriving, they are also doing business with global companies in Israel itself.

The tech boom across the border in Tel Aviv and other Israeli cities is impressive. Some are spawned out of the Israeli Defence Force, especially in Beersheva and a significant cluster is forming in Jerusalem, but this is all achieved with the help of 4G, a technology Palestinians can only dream of accessing.

Conditions in the Gaza Strip are even worse. Here, operators with 2G licences are still being blocked by Israel and with blockades on all sides, this territory of 1.8 million people is more like a refugee camp than the ‘pene-exclave region of Palestine’ described by Google.

Understandably these people are seething, but while some turn to anger and extremism, others are turning to technology to give themselves an identity. One initiative is Gaza’s only startup accelerator, Gaza Sky Geeks. In December a crowdfunding campaign was launched by global humanitarian agency Mercy Corps means to secure its future and at time of writing, it had raised $142,325, 203% of its original $70,000 goal.

This campaign has now been extended to January 8th, with the hope of raising this amount to $500,000, money that will be spent to keep its co-working space open for all of 2015, expand support for female startup founders, arrange an international hackathon, and coordinate the first Silicon Valley visit by Gazan startups.

“Although humanitarian assistance is critical in Gaza, most youth are craving opportunity, not food. Youth in Gaza are among the Arab world’s most educated young men and women, and they are hungry for the chance to prove themselves in the global marketplace,” said Iliana Montauk, Director of Mercy Corps’ Gaza Sky Geeks program.

Gaza Sky Geeks was launched in 2011 by Mercy Corps with a generous grant from Google.org. Subsequent financial and program support from Google for Entrepreneurs has enabled Gazan startups to connect with more than 30 startup communities globally, including in Silicon Valley.

Over the last year, GSG has progressed from providing technology entrepreneurship training and facilitating competitions, to bringing in the first private startup investment to Gaza and promoting women’s leadership.

“Mercy Corps has created a vibrant technology hub in Gaza that we’re proud to have supported over the last few years,” says Bridgette Beam, Senior Manager at Google for Entrepreneurs. “We’re thrilled to see this exceptionally talented and passionate community receive the boost it needs to continue growing.”

That boost that Beam refers to is that crowdfunding campaign that lasts until January 8th. While the story of Israel’s startup nation is one of great innovation, perhaps it’s time to even things up and support the ‘startup pene-exclave region’ story of Gaza.

As the song goes, if they can do it there, they can do it anywhere. Good luck to them all…

Porn being accessed by 20% of UK workers

porn-at-workAccording to a new survey by Elitetele.com of 2,000 UK workers, one in five have accessed porn and/or adult websites using a personal device which is also used for work (26% of men and 18% of women).

Moreover, one in 10 (15% of men and 8% of women) will have accessed such content on a corporate-issued device. This brings a whole new look to BYOD culture, and not one employers will welcome. Continue reading